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Orange Coast College suspends student who recorded professor’s anti-Trump comments

Victoria Lugo, interim dean of students at the Costa Mesa college, informed Caleb O’Neil of the suspension for one “primary (fall/spring) semester in addition to the summer” and other disciplinary actions against him, including that he submit a writ

The Orange Coast College student who secretly video-recorded a professor’s classroom comments calling President Trump’s election victory “an act of terrorism” is being suspended for violating campus policy.

In a Feb. 9 letter, interim dean of students Victoria Lugo informed Caleb O’Neil of the suspension for one “primary (fall/spring) semester in addition to the summer” and other disciplinary actions — including that he submit a written apology to professor Olga Perez Stable Cox, along with a three-page essay explaining why he filmed the class, how he felt about his footage going viral and his reaction to its causing “damage to Orange Coast College students, faculty and staff.”

The letter did not specify when the suspension would begin, and said O’Neil had the right to appeal. “If you choose to appeal, your sanctions will be deferred until the outcome …  is determined,” it said.

Lugo’s letter, posted on the conservative-leaning higher education news site CampusReform.org, said O’Neil’s actions violated the student code of conduct because he filmed Cox’s class without her knowledge or consent. The human sexuality course syllabus also stated that in-class recording is not permitted.

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OCC spokesman Juan Gutierrez declined to comment Wednesday on whether Cox is facing any disciplinary action over her comments.

O’Neil, 19, a freshman business student, previously had not been identified.

According to his attorney, William Becker, in a notice of appeal to the college, the “sanctions imposed on Caleb are both excessive and discriminatory.”

Soon after the Nov. 8 election, Cox spoke to her class about Trump and now-Vice President Mike Pence, saying, “Our nation is divided. We have been assaulted. It’s an act of terrorism.”

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“One of the most frightening things for me, and most people in my life, is that the people committing the assault are among us,” she said. “It is not some stranger from some other country coming in and attacking our sense of what it means to be an American and the things that we stand for.”

Cox, who is gay, referred to Trump as a “white supremacist” and to Pence as “one of the most anti-gay humans in this country.”

In the notice of appeal letter, O’Neil detailed his account of what happened in the class on Nov. 15:

“She ... went into how terrible the election was and how our nation had just been attacked. After two minutes of this, I pulled my phone out and started recording because I was terrified that my grade would drop to a B because I had missed the last Tuesday class for the election. ... I felt as if all the eyes in the room were on me because in the past I have worn Trump gear and my signed Trump.”

O’Neil shared his video with the Orange Coast College Republicans club, whose president at the time, Joshua Recalde-Martinez, posted it online.

News of the video spread quickly, sparking a nationwide debate between those who said Cox had the academic freedom to express her views in a private setting and those who argued that her statements went too far.

Attempts to reach Cox for further comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Zint, Chan and Priscella Vega write for Times Community News.

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bradley.zint@latimes.com | Twitter: @BradleyZint

alexandra.chan@latimes.com | Twitter: @AlexandraChan10

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